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Mapuche People

The Mapuche people are the largest indigenous group in Chile, encompassing 10 percent of the population. The name Mapuche is derived from the Mapudungun words “Che” (people) and “Mapu” (of the land). The majority of Mapuche people live in either the Araucania Region, from the Bío Bío River to the Chiloé Island, or in Santiago and its surrounding areas. There are also an estimated 300,000 Mapuche living in Argentina.

Once a large and prosperous ethnic group that occupied the entire Central Valley zone in Chile, the Mapuche people and culture has dwindled; only an estimated 200,000 people are left that can still speak the native language of Mapudungun. Historically, the Mapuche had an agriculture-based economy; however, with the loss of their land, the people turned to metal working. Many now rely on making and selling silver jewelry for monetary support.

Over 300 years of successful resistance against the Spanish and the Inca Empire (eventually being taken by the Chilean state in the 19th century) has left these people with both a legacy of strength and determination as well as poverty stricken and marginalized by Chilean society. One of the reasons the Mapuche were able to successfully avoid the powerful Spanish was their lack of a traditional political system, which left the invading army confused by their fragmented system of authority. The Mapuche continue with this way of life, living not in contained villages but rather spread out with their families.

Today the battle is not with Spanish conquistadores, but rather the Chilean government and the large timber and hydroelectric multinational companies that threaten their land and way of life. Violent clashes with the police, protests and arbitrary arrests, while seeming like acts out of the Pinochet era, have proven to be a very real and modern practice for the Mapuche people. Four different international bodies, including the United Nations, have requested that Chile review its criminal justice policy towards indigenous people. Yet, recent news of the Mapuche people in Chile still speaks only of social and political isolation—as most live in poverty with little access to education and health care.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Chile: Safety, Working in Chile, Chiloé Tours, Tours in the Lake District, When to go to Chiloé, Valle del Limarí Overview, Officialdom and Business in Chile, Tours on Easter Island, Services and When to Go to Middle Chile .

By Michelle Lillie
I am currently living on my fourth continent. I think that backpacks are one of the greatest inventions of all times. I adhere to the idea that if...
07 Jul 2009

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